- MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A federal lawsuit claims sheriff’s deputies shot and killed a 27-year-old man in his southwest Louisiana home after investigators improperly obtained a warrant to search his residence for drugs.
The Dec. 26 lawsuit accuses a Beauregard Parish Sheriff’s Office detective of relying on false and uncorroborated statements from an informant and an anonymous caller to get a “no-knock” warrant to search Eric Senegal’s home.
Deputies told State Police investigators that they fatally shot Senegal after he pointed a .45-caliber pistol at a SWAT team member who raided his Ragley home on Jan. 4, 2016. A third deputy said he shot and killed Senegal’s pit bull after the dog attacked them.
In November, a grand jury ruled out criminal charges against the two deputies who shot at Senegal, hitting him three times. District Attorney Jimmy Lestage’s office determined the deputies acted in self-defense and ruled the shooting was justified.
But the civil rights lawsuit, filed on behalf of Senegal’s widow, claims deputies conspired to misrepresent facts of the shooting and obstruct the investigation. The suit doesn’t elaborate on those claims, but plaintiffs’ attorney Derrick Kee asserted that there are “serious inconsistencies” in the deputies’ accounts of the shooting.
“We don’t necessarily buy the story that (Senegal) pulled a gun on the officers,” Kee said during a telephone interview Friday. “At this point, we’re not accepting anything at face value.”
Sheriff Ricky Moses said Thursday that he hadn’t seen the suit and couldn’t comment on pending litigation. The sheriff’s office, Moses and several deputies are named as defendants.
The State Police’s report on the shooting says the SWAT team detonated two “flash-bangs” before they rammed open the front door of Senegal’s home, yelling, “Sheriff’s office, search warrant!”
Senegal’s dog charged through the doorway and knocked a deputy into another SWAT team member, Deputy Dale Sharp, who fired at Senegal, the police report says. Sharp told investigators that he saw Senegal approach the deputies with a pistol and didn’t realize it was the dog that knocked the other deputy into him. Sharp initially thought Senegal had shot the deputy by the way he fell backward, according to the police report.
Sharp “said there wasn’t anything he could have done different. He believed Senegal would have shot one of them,” the report says.
SWAT team member Oscar Lopez told investigators he shot at Senegal when he saw him pointing a handgun at Sharp. Lopez said he saw Senegal fall and heard him say, “I didn’t have nothing.” Hearing that “made him second guess himself until (another deputy) entered the residence, found the gun, and slid the gun away from Senegal using his foot,” the police report says.
The district attorney’s report on the shooting says the pistol recovered from Senegal had been stolen and that Senegal had drugs in his system at the time of his death.
The sheriff’s office routinely obtains “no-knock” warrants for drug raids in Beauregard Parish, which abuts Texas and has a population of roughly 36,000. A deputy testified in a recent case unrelated to Senegal’s shooting that the department executes most of its search warrants without first knocking or announcing its presence.
The application for a warrant to search Senegal’s home says an informant told a detective on Dec. 31, 2015, that Senegal sells marijuana and other drugs from his home. On the day of the shooting, a “concerned citizen” contacted the sheriff’s department and accused Senegal of threatening him with a sawed-off shotgun when the caller told him to stop selling drugs to a relative, the application says.
Kee, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said investigators didn’t know the caller’s identity and didn’t try to investigate his allegations before asking a judge for the search warrant.
“In general, the no-knock warrant is a very dangerous warrant and should only be issued under the strictest set of circumstances,” Kee said.
Senegal pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession when he was a teenager but didn’t have a violent criminal record, according to Kee and the district attorney.
“This should not have happened,” Kee said.
Senegal is black. One of the deputies who shot at him is white; the other is Hispanic.
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